In 2012 we will build a dwelling place on our land.

We are working with  Whole Trees Architecture and Construction on drawing up plans to design a structure built of locally grown (many grown on our own property), unmilled timbers. These won’t be the best “specimen” trees around.  Instead they’ll be “seconds”, trees that a healthy woods may be better off parting with.   Threes sides of our house will be straw bale, and the fourth south-facing wall will be optimized for winter solar heat gain.

Up until a few days ago, we had been planning to do a metal roof, but we’ve now decided our house will have a sod roof.

Our architect has suggested sod several times, but I’ve always been hesitant.  I was afraid of the same things everyone is when they haven’t research the topic.  It seems so messy.  What if it leaks?   But increasing  familiarity has allayed my fears, and the decision to switch to sod just seemed to fall into place.

A sod roof is the best choice for us because it can have a flatter pitch, which will accommodate our house plan, and conversely a sod roof can also follow irregular contours, which will allow us to have a roof that slopes and curves in several directions, which also best fits our plans and our unmilled materials.

It’s amazing how right the sod solution feels now.  Our architect draws her designs in a studio with a sod roof, so it’s not an unfamiliar concept to her.  And there is more and more literature extolling the virtues of sod roofs.  They are warmer in the winter, cooler in the summer.  They are environmentally friendly on a range of levels.  They are not that hard to make, and they can be incredibly durable.

In celebration of our weekend roof revelations, here is a smorgasbord of you tubes that look at sod roofs from many perspectives.

Take a  visual tour of sod roofs.  But be warned.

You might start thinking about sod yourself.

Number One Video

combines some benefits of green roofs with a demo of the necessary layers used in one approach to building sod roofs.  One thing I’ve learned is there are almost as many ways to seal your sod as there are sod roofs.

Number Two Video

shows how sod cut from a building site was used on the building’s roof.  It looks very official with hard hats and everything.

Number Three Video

shows people mowing their roof.  A little obsessive compulsive for my taste.  These crazy ducks are even weed whacking around their chimney.  I mean, really!

I’m envisioning a roof that looks like a flowering meadow, but of course, a lot of variables will have to be considered before we decide what we will plant on our roof.

Number Four Video

emphasizes the global environmental benefit of sod roofs.  After a lengthy preamble, they do show some interesting examples of green roofs in cities as well as rural settings from around the world

Number Five Video

shows how one contractor goes about building green roofs.  A little industrial for my taste, but it seems to work.

Number Six Video

some environmentally friendly architecture including several very dramatic homes with green roofs from around the world.  This is architectural eye candy.


8 replies

  1. My only concern is have any of these sod roofs been build in a climate that can have hard freeze for 4 to 6 months out of the year? Since our permafrost gets very deep and lasts a long time, is that going to compromise the roof structure after time?

  2. Hi Monique,
    That’s a legitimate concern in our climate.
    But sod roofs have been used forever in Scandinavia, and my architect works under a sod roof in LaCrosse, which can get harsher winters than we do in Madison.
    Frankly, I’m not too concerned about harsh winters. The extensive research that is being done in Wisconsin on what we can expect of global warming, (and are already experiencing) is that our winter nights will be less and less cold over time.
    So short answer — a sod roof can handle harsh winters, but unfortunately, will not have to much around here from now on.
    This is great news to all the bugs and other pests that can’t actually take our formerly harsh winters.
    But that’s another topic.

  3. My concern would be the weight of snow on a shallow pitch roof, especially after our catastrophe with the polytunnel.

    I have been looking at several websites on green roofs and one comment by a roofer was he converted to green roofs after noticing how long a roof lasted that was left covered in moss. Cleaned roofs do not last long and despite the fear a moss covered roof actually protects the roofing material. Thanks for the links anyway

  4. Hi Joanna,

    On your second point, that is one of the benefits we are hearing about – that covering in green materials extends the life of the underlying surface.

    On your first point, it all comes down to sizing the building members. Timber frame in general, and whole tree timbers in particular are notable for their strength.

    Even so you raise a good point, and we are being assured that additional support will be added to accommodate this snow load/ low pitch combo. I have seen low pitch, sod roofs survive some pretty heavy snow around here. I know it’s possible.

    Just one more reason to keep buildings small, so spans are reduced.

    Thanks for your perspective, Joanna. I always like to hear from you

    • That is interesting about whole tree supports and it makes sense I guess. Our next polytunnel will have supports on every other span this time so should hold up, this time. Although many small greenhouses have collapsed this year too, some due to snow and some once the snow has gone and I suspect ice got in and weakened them.

      Another reason for small spans is that means small rooms and they are far easier to heat.

      • We put a lean-to greenhouse on the side of our little barn. It is held up with white oak 2x4s that are actually 2×4, and isn’t going anywhere. But it’s hard to use when we still live in town.
        Luckily, at this point, we are living in Madison and teaching in Platteville. Our land is halfway between and just a couple of miles off the highway, so we are able to water and tend then. this is our second growing season in our greenhouse, and everything is a learning experience.

  5. Hi Denise, This post was so interesting and enlightening to me. I would never have thought a green roof would work so well. I grew up believing you keep plants off of roofs. Tragically, I can’t see my suburban neighborhood association allowing this – but when we move, someday, I definitely want a green roof! Have passed this post on to several people. Thanks!

    • Yes, it’s a very interesting mental process that happens once one steps off the path and starts to really look into things.
      Our architect has been talking about sod roofs for several years, and I just didn’t bother to really research and consider it, but once I started to see that so many voices are saying the same thing — that it’s possible and it’s an improvement over conventional roofing in many many situations.
      Now I can’t imagine not having a sod roof.
      2012 is going to be a very interesting year for us when we finally get to apply all the research and plans we have been working on for 7 years.
      The house being planned now is so radically different than our first thoughts on what to build.

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